The role of imaging in gastrointestinal bleed

Benjamin W. Carney, Garvit Khatri, Anuradha S. Shenoy-Bhangle


Gastrointestinal (GI) bleed accounts for approximately 20% of emergency visits; 2% of hospital admissions and its incidence has been increasing. In patients where the GI bleed does not stop spontaneously, intervention is required to identify the source of bleeding and stop the hemorrhage. Although identifying the source of bleeding can be challenging due to the vast number of underlying etiologies, radiology plays a vital role in patients where endoscopy and/or medical management fail. Radiology offers both non-invasive and invasive options for the diagnosis as well as management of GI bleeds. Scintigraphy and computed tomography angiography (CTA) are the most important non-invasive imaging tests that can identify presence of and help locate the site of bleeding and are used when the patient is hemodynamically stable. If the patient is hemodynamically unstable, conventional angiography (CA) allows diagnosis of the presence, site of bleeding as well as the means of treating the bleed by embolization. Our review article focuses on the various etiologies of GI bleed, the role of imaging in diagnosis as well as treatment of these patients based on the underlying etiologies, the merits and disadvantages of each of these modalities with emphasis on triaging patients for the most appropriate imaging test to guide the most suitable management.